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Signs of CVT problems

Our hybrid has a CVT – does anyone know what the warning signs are for an impending failure and when it should be immediately taken to a mechanic (other than oil leaks)?
The traditional way – listening to when it slips – won’t work for a CVT since the nature of a CVT makes it seem like it’s slipping all the time.
They are expensive to fix so any advice on interceptive maintenance would be helpful too (most service managers seem to know little about them).

What make and model?

If it is a Prius, the cvt is not the same as the belt driven unit on other ICE cars. Not only that, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a problem. Just do regular routine maintenance. A regular transmission is very expensive to fix too. Relax, be happy. ;=) You’re committed.

We have a 2006 Escape. Other hybrids (including the Prius) have a similar design. A regular or automatic tranny can be fixed or it can be replaced with a junkya … I mean, recycled gearbox at substantially less cost than a CVT BTW.

It has a planetary gearbox, the CVT action’s achieved by varying the two electric motors and the engine. What makes you think you have a problem? Have you had the gearbox oil changed?

Texases: We don’t have a problem now, but we sure want to know how to avoid one! Preventive medicine is the best medicine, and it always helps to know warning signs. CVT’s are crazy expensive if they do go bad, and if we can predict when a problem is beginning, this could help prevent major problems later on. We hope to keep our car for many more years and this question is more about getting preventive information than about diagnosing any problem on our car.
Yes, we have seen diagrams of CVT’s on the web (Ford had a good one at one point). They seem relatively simple but they do have some components which operate under fairly heavy stress (that’s one reason Ford uses part of the hybrid battery system to run one of the transmission mechanisms). And yes, we have serviced the car as recommended by our dealer. Not too many service reps seem to know much about these gearboxes (or coneboxes) which could mean they seldom cause problems or it could mean that if they fail, they fail without much warning and there’s not much you can do to prevent anything. They do seem to be used for lower-power engines, which may also mean they are inherently less sturdy than a regular transmission.
This isn’t just a question about this specific model. CVT’s will be showing up more frequently since they seem to give better mileage (at least under the EPA testing cycle). In addition to hybrids, Subaru may be using them as their “normal” automatic transmission and they are about all you can get on mid-line Honda Accords now. I’m still not sold on them, though, since they are so expensive if they fail, since they increase the RPM’s and noise, and since they are quite boring to drive.

Good you’re not having a problem. But you don’t have a ‘cone box’, right? The Ford and Toyota hybrids don’t use that.

You have pretty much answered your own question. Keep maintaining it as suggested and don’t use it for heavy use like towing. Personally, at this point if it’s running well and I were still worried about the transmission and not stil that pleased with how it opporates, I I would trade it.

I have a 6 speed auto and if I left it on it’s own, it would shift constantly to get the best performance. I think that has to shortening it’s life too and I don’t see me replacing it with a junk part or having some independent on the corner fixing it. It will be a factory rebuild, just like a CVT. But when it gets to a point where it’s still running well but has higher mileage enough that I start worrying about it, it’s time to trade.

Just maintain it well and hope for the best. Gentle driving habits will greatly extend its life.

At this time NO ONE in the USA can repair or rebuild CVTs; they are just changed out if anything goes wrong. Once your warranry runs out any problem will cost you around $4000 for an exhange.

You have a CVT, therefore you have a problem. You can read my initial NHTSA report at

It got worse. I live in central TX, and my parents live in Phoenix. The morning of March 21, 2014, my dad died. I found out at about noon, went home to make plane reservations and pack, then drove to the nearest airport, about an hour and a half away, mostly interstate.

Less than an hour in, I started having trouble, so I stopped to eat lunch and let the CVT cool. Shortly after I started out again, one exit before the airport exit, the car suddenly dropped to 40mph – in a 70mph zone – and kept losing power. I had barely enough power to get off the freeway and coast into a gas station. I had it towed to a Nissan dealer, rented a car, rescheduled my flight for the next day, and booked a room in a hotel.

I was gone for over a week. It took a whole week for the dealer just to get permission to replace the CVT after the mechanic “pulled cvt oil pan and found excessive metal shavings in pan and inside transmission”, so I had to rent another car to get home and to work the next few days.

The invoice only said “All Nissan genuine parts carry a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty”, so I asked if that was the case for the CVT as well. The response was so outrageous, I asked for it in writing. I was told that, if I had bought an SUV, the CVT would be warrantied for 120,000 miles, but as I owned a Versa, it was only warrantied for 20.5 months or 60.000 miles, whichever came first. I had only had the car for about 1.5 years before the original CVT started to go. It died at 2 years 4 months and 34,167 miles, which means this CVT is warrantied to last less time and mileage than the original.

" I had only had the car for about 1.5 years before the original CVT started to go. It died at 2 years 4 months"

I’m sorry for your loss, and ordeal @deserthackberry.

If I read the above correctly you’re saying you drove it for nearly a year with the CVT acting up before it failed completely?

Yes, because I couldn’t get any of the local dealers in Waco, Temple, or Round Rock TX to work on it, as I said in the NHTSA complaint (link above). Waco Nissan said they couldn’t reproduce the problem. Round Rock Nissan discouraged me from making an appointment because they said they would have to keep the car for quite awhile, as I found out when the CVT finally died. The rep at Garlyn Shelton Nissan in Temple TX also wouldn’t make an appointment. He told me the CVTs weren’t made to withstand US interstate speeds, so they would overheat and slow down abruptly at high speeds, as described in the NHTSA complaint. Seriously, that’s exactly what he said. No shame.

At around 60K miles, the CVT in my '08 Altima started to whine. My regular mechanic suggested I take it to the dealer. A short test drive by the dealer service writer and we were on our way to a new transaxle, gratis, despite the car being out of warranty. Nissan had recognized the problem and extended the warranty.

Has the rep at Garlyn Shelton considered a career in politics?